In Andy Clark (ed.), Supersizing the Mind. Oxford University Press (2008)
A month ago, I bought an iPhone. The iPhone has already taken over some of the central functions of my brain. It has replaced part of my memory, storing phone numbers and addresses that I once would have taxed my brain with. It harbors my desires: I call up a memo with the names of my favorite dishes when I need to order at a local restaurant. I use it to calculate, when I need to figure out bills and tips. It is a tremendous resource in an argument, with Google ever present to help settle disputes. I make plans with it, using its calendar to help determine what I can and can’t do in the coming months. I even daydream on the iPhone, idly calling up words and images when my concentration slips. Friends joke that I should get the iPhone implanted into my brain. But if Andy Clark is right, all this would do is speed up the processing, and free up my hands. The iPhone is part of my mind already. Clark is a connoisseur of the myriad ways in which the mind relies on the world to get its work done. The first part of this marvelous book explores some of these ways: the extension of our bodies, the extension of our senses, and crucially, the use of language as a tool to extend our thought. The second part of the book defends the thesis that in at least some of these cases, the world is not serving as a mere instrument for the mind. Rather, the relevant parts of the world have become parts of my mind. My iPhone is not my tool, or at least it is not wholly my tool. Parts of it have become parts of me. This is the thesis of the extended mind: when parts of the environment are coupled to the brain in the right way, they become parts of the mind. The thesis has a long history: I am told that there are hints of it in Dewey, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. But no-one has done as much to give life to the idea as Andy Clark. In a series of important books and articles—Being There, Natural-Born Cyborgs, “Magic words: How language augments human computation”, and many others—he has explored the many ways in which the boundaries between mind and world are far more flexible than one might have thought..
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